Reflection

We cannot go back: what is done is done, as Lady Macbeth said.  Can we go forward?

O shall we pray, who have his faith betrayed,

Turning from Him who us in Life arrayed,

By earthly hopes, by earthly fears dismayed?

Hosanna, Hosanna.

Seek not the bread that here on earth is made,

Seek rather that which is from heav’n relayed,

Seek rather Him: the Word in flesh arrayed.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

Seek not the joy bound but to human life,

Seek not by human ways to win the strife,

Seek rather Him whose Blood is all our Life.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

Oh, do not gaze, but seek to Him receive,

Who would our state from dreadful death relieve,

Turn not aside, do not thus Him bereave!

Hosanna, Hosanna.

Make not our Lord into an earthly risk,

Turn not our Saviour to a poisoned gift,

He us from death shall much more truly lift.

Alleiuia, Alleiuia.

O Lord, by Thine own faith which did not fail,

By blood of those who did not from threat quail,

Restore our hope, turn us from our betrayal.

Hosanna, Hosanna.

O Lord, by Thy o’erwhelming wish to save,

Redeem Thy flock from this her faithless grave,

For Thy name’s sake, the judgements on us waive.

Hosanna, Hosanna.

O come, O Lord, O rend the heavens apart,

O break again our cowering stony heart,

From faithless loss grant mercy’s blest new start.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

Cherry Foster

 

 

 

Posting the Pangolin

(For the sake of not risking misinformation: this is a joke.  I am yet to meet anyone in the UK walking a pangolin).

413px-Pangolin_borneo source wikimedia commons photo credit Piekfrosch copywrite to attribution
Pangolin. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo Credit: Piekfrosch

New advice issued today on COVID-19 precautions made several unaccountably missed recommendations.

The advice, issued by an unknown government office, told people that they should not stroke unknown pet pangolins.  Those walking pangolins are requested to keep them on a short lead and not to allow them to get too close to strangers.  “You should be socially distanced, your pangolin should be socially distanced,” the spokeswoman for this unknown office said.

She also stated the advice that, when passing in a narrow space, one party should walk on their hands while the other stayed on their feet.  “It’s a good way of not breathing over the other person.”

The IftPoAaIL welcomed the propositions, saying that it did not understand why these recommendations had not been implemented weeks ago.  However, some pangolin owners were bothered by the possible effect on animal welfare, drawing attention to the difficulties of providing the animals with adequate exercise on a short lead, and possible future difficulties with the socialisation of younger animals.

The advice regarding passing in a narrow space has been welcomed unusually unanimously, with the institute of clowns offering online classes in walking upside down.

Cherry Foster

 

IftPoAaIL: Institute for the Promotion of Absurd and Impractical Laws.  As far as I know, it doesn’t exist, though it may be one of the ancient and seldom used collective names for those who meet in the Palace of Westminster…  😛

The Good Samaritan: a reason for arguing the Christian response to COVID-19 was correct?

Aime-Morot-Le-bon-Samaritain Source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
The Good Samaritan, by Aime Morot. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo credit unknown.

Studying philosophy means trying to look at questions from every angle, and attempting to test conclusions against everything relevant.  Preferably one stops short of actually going mad, but as most of my friends will tell you, I personally didn’t succeed!  😛

In this case, particularly, when everyone else is telling me my conclusion must be wrong, and I have struggled with it myself (it’s hardly an easy answer), I have kept questioning and considering.

And I still come out with the same answer: that is, that we have got it wrong, and that in locking Churches and denying people the Sacraments, we have betrayed three times: God, the people of the Church, and the people of the world: the former in treating Him as if He was not the primary means of Life; the people of the Church in excluding their part in the work of God, and in showing a lack of reciprocal commitment to them; and the world in not bearing witness to the fact of a more fundamental life than that which a disease can destroy.

The good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) logically comes in for some real scrutiny in this context – something that could be used to argue that I have in fact got the priorities wrong – and I think it is an interesting one to examine, as it may be that it is often read at present by way of putting the second commandment before the first.  (I am referring to Matt. 22:37-40 and its analogues in reference to the first and second commandments, by the way – not to the Old Testament ten).

I should be clear that the case for using it to defend the response of shutting Churches and denying the sacraments is my own, as is my conclusion that this case should be rejected.  I haven’t yet heard anyone try to use this parable to justify what has been done, but, again, considering what might speak against your conclusions by way of testing them is part of doing philosophy well.

I do not find the Good Samaritan convincing as a argument for denying the Sacraments on the grounds that there remains some risk of infection that cannot be negated even from the perspective of receiving an intincted Host at arm’s length through a window while both parties wear a mask.

The argument for saying that it should justify this, is the argument that this indicates that a person should be willing to sacrifice even their worship to the corporeal good of others.  I think it is probably problematic, however, for several reasons – both to do with the parable, to do with what is the truest service to neighbour, and to do with its lack of real analogy to the situation (sacrificing others, as opposed to sacrificing yourself).

The position of the debate in the Gospel can be read against taking even the straightforward reading as a exultation of the second commandment over the first.  That is, both the questioner and Jesus seem to have have agreed about the first commandment “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all our mind” and are debating a particular detail of the second “and your neighbour as yourself.”

Though the subversive overturning of “who is my neighbour?” is probably straightforward in itself – “go and do likewise” – the nature of the text suggests a symbolic reading which actually points to, rather than away from the Sacraments.  The “likewise” may point beyond the original “love your neighbour as yourself” towards “love each other as I have loved you”.

The man who is set on by thieves is going from Jerusalem to Jericho: this probably has a symbolism rather like that of the prodigal son going to a far country and feeding the pigs: i.e. he has sinned, and the result of this sin is disaster.

It is not clear if we are told which direction anyone except the man is going in: however, in the translation I have here, both the man and the priest are said to be going “down” the road, which would suggest the priest would also have been going towards Jericho.  This may be significant, as it suggests that while the notion that too great an emphasis on ritual purity may be relevant (avoiding a possible corpse), the specific priority of the temple worship probably does not come into it if the priest is going towards Jericho (i.e. away from the temple).

The bandages, the oil and the wine may be sacramental images (the Baptismal garment, the oil of anointing, the Precious Blood), the ass may represent Christ’s bearing our sins and their consequences in His Body, the Inn may represent the Church in which Christ’s care (that He has paid for) is received*.

I am never sure what to make of these extremely symbolic readings; however, when it is a matter of considering a deeper meaning (a lot of powerful narratives can be meaningfully read on both a straightforward and a symbolic/allusion level: it is part of their power), and not standing outside the general tenor of the Gospel narrative, I think there is some reason to at least take them seriously.  And if so, it can actually be brought in as much to argue what I have been saying for other reasons: that is, that the Divine Life and care for the Divine Life is more fundamental, as to argue that we should sacrifice the worship of God entirely to care for neighbour (instead of regarding it as part of how we care for our neighbour, accompanied by the corporeal works of mercy.  Both can be distorted into selfishness, but neither are selfish in themselves**).

This in itself, while I think it does matter and is significant, in that it would suggest the reading of the parable may not be as simply focused only on the corporeal works of mercy as it looks at first glance***, seems to only confuse the issue.  This may be partly because I am not a theologian, and cannot write with much confidence when it comes to scriptural interpretation (there’s a lot of difference between knowing about a subject, and understanding how to apply the processes which are used in it).

I’ve written at length already (see quite a lot of previous posts in the same categories) on the second reason: that is, that our primary service to the world should not be adopting its priorities but witnessing to the Life of God.

The final reason I’d suggest that the parable of the Good Samaritan does not justify the decisions made is impossible to put with real tact.  What I would say instead to people is simply: I write as a sinner and conscious of my own failings of faith, and I do not write to accuse, but to seek reconciliation.  That cannot be done except in acknowledging the reality of the situation and the experience as it has actually been for me.  Trying to ask people to understand why their sympathy is upsetting and does not mean much is always difficult, but it is the only way through when it is the reality.

The reason is this: the Good Samaritan sacrifices himself, not other people.  He has compassion, he puts the man on his animal, he takes him to an inn and he pays the innkeeper for his care.  The COVID-19 decisions, involving the refusal of the Sacraments to all but clergy households, has involved one group of people sacrificing another for the purported good of third parties***.  It’s more equivalent to a situation where the Samaritan was journeying with a severely wounded relative on his donkey, and assisting another wounded friend along by foot.  Upon meeting the man set on by thieves, this Samaritan pushes the wounded person off the donkey to abandon them to death and the powers of darkness in the road, puts the person set on by robbers on the donkey, and forces the other wounded person to take them to an inn and pay for their care.  He then carries on alone, missing their company, lamenting their difficulties, and praying for them, but quite confident he has done the right thing in saving the man lying by the roadside at their cost!  It is not surprising that such sympathy is not likely to make much difference to what the person left to die in the road thinks or feels about the situation…

Of course, within Catholic order, which I do still hold despite all this, it is not the priests’ fault that they cannot share the fate of the non-ordained in enforced excommunication, for even if they were to decline to celebrate the Eucharist and receive (which personally, I would not advocate), they have the choice, while we do not.  This is among my reasons for suggesting that we can only be consistent by point-blank refusing to go along with secular orders that people should be actually deprived of the Sacraments (as opposed to changing what we are doing to take a lot of extra precautions).  If the non-ordained are equally the people of God, it follows that the duty of stewardship from the clergy in taking them the Sacraments has to be fairly absolute.

So, for various different reasons, my mind on this point is not changed by the contemplation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Having talked about the issue with regard to the clergy-laity relationship, however, I would like to finish by re-emphasising that I do believe that our primary betrayal is of God, not of the people.  That is, it is in turning from Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, to seek life chiefly in “professors’ models“.

Cherry Foster

 

*Except for the comment on ritual purity (I’ll find a reference if anyone wants to ask me for one) and the comment on possibly pointing to the New Commandment (which is my own), this all comes from The Orthodox Study Bible; St Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology 2008.

**It could be argued that we have become infected by a tendency to regard religion as a private matter: it would make more sense from the Christian tradition of thought to defend religious freedom by emphasising that all must come freely to God, than by making out that what we do in worship, we do entirely for our own benefit.

*** And our own supposed protection, which I would argue is a worse argument, because (a) the notion that someone can be done good by being denied Christ – the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the one thing necessary – is absurd, and (b) we are grown up.  It should be up to us, as individuals in conjunction with our own spiritual advisors, in our own circumstances, with our own knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses, our particular calling, and the way God works with us, to make decisions as to whether to receive the Sacraments in such a situation or not.  To systematically deny us that capacity to choose on such grounds is to deny our capacity to come to maturity in faith.

 

N.B.  If the use of “we/our” in this text, as in “our primary betrayal” is confusing, given that I am speaking primarily as someone who has suffered the situation rather than being part of doing it, this “we/our” is a collective use, which I feel to be appropriate in context.  I am not ordained.  I have to date been left completely without the Sacraments for more than 14 weeks, despite (to the best of my knowledge) repeated requests to the contrary made on my behalf, so my experience is that of a lay person who was previously a daily communicant.

However, I am part of the whole mess of faithlessness that created the situation where such decisions could be made, and there is a manner in which it is meaningful to use “we” even when there can be no personal responsibility (as in “we [the British] were involved in the slave trade in 1700”).  The question of collective/non-personal responsibility is a very complex one – some linguistic confusion is perhaps accurately reflective of this?!

An academic and an administrator walk into a bar…

An academic and an administrator went into a bar and got talking…

The administrator asked the academic a question about their discipline.

The academic said, “oh, that’s really simple,” and she summarised it in one crisp sentence.

The administrator looked blank, because the academic might as well have been speaking a foreign language.

“Oh these academics,” she said in the office the next morning.  “I felt I was about an inch high.”

A few days later the administrator and the academic met again.  This time, the academic was complaining about the difficulty she was having filling in her tax forms.

“There’s forty pages,” she said, “and it wants all sorts of random figures from different pieces of paper, none of which I can find, and it uses all sorts of terms that don’t really make sense, plus quite a few which don’t seem to match with my situation at all.  It’s just impossible.  And they penalise you horribly if you get it in late.  I’ve been up all night wrestling with it, and it’ll probably take me several hours more.”

“What,” said the administrator, “you mean the income tax form?  They’re easy.  I just ran through mine in half an hour.”

The academic looked blank.

“These administrators,” she said to her colleagues over coffee and integrals the following morning…

😛

Cherry Foster

The Denial

What is the Eucharist?

Rembrandt, the denial of St. Peter source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
The denial of St. Peter, by Rembrandt.  Source:Wikimedia Commons; Photo: credit unknown.

According to Thy gracious word,

In meek humility,

This will we do, O dying Lord,

Will not remember Thee.

Thy Body, broken for our sake,

But risk of death shall be,

Thy Precious Blood will we forsake,

We’ll thus remember Thee

Gethsemane we have forgot,

We’ll not that conflict face,

Thine agony is but Thy lot.

Leave faith to the nut-case.

When to the cross we turn our eyes,

We jeer at Calvary.

O Lamb of God, our sacrifice,

We won’t remember Thee.

Thee we ignore, and all Thy pains,

And love to us who hate,

For nought of Thee in us remains,

Who prize Thee at no rate.

And we shall die – who seem to think

To leave Thee is to live.

Ere we in endless waters sink,

O, turn us – and forgive.

 

Cherry Foster (Pastiche of James Montgomery)

How I motivate and organise my at-home study

I have spent much of my life studying by correspondence, partly because I find it suits my lifestyle choices, and partly because with the illness and disability problems I have, it tends to be what works.

There are complexities regarding organisation, motivation, and time and stress management, which are worth thought.  These have changed depending on what is going on in my life.  When I was studying Open University short courses while travelling to (very part time) college* at the age of seventeen, neither organisation or motivation were really an issue.  I lacked adequate mental stimulation at that time in my life, I only had to remember to take two books in my bag, and the railway journey served as a clear piece of external structure.  However, later in life, once I had failed to get a degree studying full time in a conventional way, and attempted instead to do it by correspondence, I started to struggle.  The projects were too big and diffuse, and took too long for there to seem any light at the end of the tunnel of actually finishing anything, particularly as I kept needing extensions.

I succeeded in graduating well despite this.  But when I signed up for an M.A., I worked in a slightly different way.  My course involves two ten week lecture courses (for which there is a lot of reading) and two six-thousand word essays in each of the first two years, and a dissertation in the third year.

Here are some things I’ve used or am trying out.  What works is likely to differ for everyone.  There’s no point in trying to fix what isn’t broken – no point in trying to focus your concentration if you have no trouble concentrating – and there’s no point in trying to take a “work without interruptions” approach if the reality of your circumstances currently involves caring for a toddler while you study!  It’s one thing to say “avoid this if possible, it often helps” another to give up because it isn’t possible.  What I’m trying to organise are a lot of very long, complicated projects, and what I’d need to do if I had a lot of short, individual tasks would be different.

Have some sort of motivational chart or book, with rewards for completing a certain length of time or small task.  The tasks I do are much too big and too long for them to seem as if they have an end, and if I look at that end I feel overwhelmed.  So I have a sticker book and get a star for every hour completed, graduating up from bronze to gold with each hour done (three hours in one day is pushing it for me, as I have limited stamina).  I also get a round smiley sticker if I have done a certain number of hours in a week or all the reading for an (online) lecture when a course is running, and a special reward sticker if I have done all the reading for a whole course, a particularly high number of hours a week, or handed in an essay.  I also have an effort sticker for meeting a daily challenge (if I’m sick I may only aim to do one hour a day, for example) and one for doing all the day’s housework (more on this later).  When I do something, the achievement that I can see immediately is the sticker and what it represents.  It is both satisfying and helps reassure me that I am actually getting somewhere and that the overall task does have an end.

If you don’t know from experience, spend a few hours with Myers-Briggs working out what your best study approach is likely to be.  The study management guidance we got at school insisted that was somehow better to do your homework instantly when you got home from school, worse to do it after a break and your meal, and positively evil to do it before school in the morning.  I can see how they were thinking, but what’s right is what works.  If it works better to get up at five in the morning and study for two hours before getting dressed, then so be it.  Much better than pushing to work when you come home from school if you’re not an afternoon person.  Just try not to be working on homework that’s due in that day, unless you’re the sort of person who finds pushing a tight deadline both conducive to flourishing and the best way of doing excellent work.

One of the pointers Myer-Briggs gave me was that I have a personality type that’s fairly ambivalent about structure.  It usually works better for people with my personality type to have some structure but not too much: i.e. a few things at set times and other things done as and when.  Myers-Briggs may also give some guidance as to whether you’re likely to do better with silence or surrounded by human activity, multi-tasking or concentrated work, and so on.  However, it is guidance – a place to start – not a law of the Medes and Persians which cannot be altered!

Find the right length of time to concentrate for.  A lack of external structure may be difficult in a lot of ways, but it does have the advantage that you may be able to work to your own natural, individual rhythms, rather than having them imposed from outside by a timetable of one hour and ten minute periods.  If you find that a quarter of an hour on, a quarter off, works better than an hour and ten minutes at once, or that three hours in a row without a break is your best bet, it isn’t constrained by institutional preferences and compromises (only by household circumstances…).  I find what works best depends on what type of task I’m doing, so if I’m reading, I need more frequent breaks and a more spread out timetable than if I’m writing.  When writing, I find spending longer in one go works better.  I used to go to sleep in chemistry lessons at college* because I could only concentrate on learning about the complexities of orbitals or the structure of haemoglobin for about forty minutes at a time.  That may be unusually extreme, but one might as well max out all the advantages of the correspondence situation.

Choose a time management technique It may work better to have a timetable (always study from 8-10 in the mornings) or to have a to-do list which includes spending a certain amount of time studying (N.B. I found Julie Morgenstern’s “time management from the inside out” very useful here: she has a lot of different techniques to suit a lot of different styles and circumstances).  A lot of work-from-home advice can be usefully applied to study too.

Put everything on the same “to do” list if you have the difficulty of always feeling you should be doing something else.  I’ve just set up a cleaning programme called Tody with my housework, and then I added 4 half hours of study to the list for every weekday.  It is quite amusing because this means that when I tick off half an hour of foraging around in a concordance and a study Bible it says, “it’s getting cleaner!”  But I’m hoping I’ll have less trouble with feeling I should be studying if I do housework, and should be doing housework when I study.  It gives me a limited number of housework tasks a day and I don’t feel pressurised by the rest of the housework because I know each task will come up on the list of things to do today in due course.  I’ve also put people contact and leisure activities on there to indicate to myself that they are necessary to wellbeing in due proportion as much as doing the washing up is.

Treat human contact as a necessity: people need different amounts of time with others, but we are a social creature, and very few people can be alone for weeks on end without suffering.  This is not a problem I’ve managed to solve, but it is one I’m increasingly coming to recognise.  I was pretty isolated before lockdown began, between my disabilities and living in a remote place.

Try the same sort of management and planning techniques that are used for work projects: find something that suits the nature of the study you’re doing, and it may help a lot.  It’s also a useful transferable skill.  (And a way of helping take study seriously as work…).  I’ve just drawn up a flow chart for my current (6000) word essay, which includes doing research in a concordance, rereading a couple of texts, checking the institution’s referencing guide before I get as far as referencing, redoing the plan, as the original proposed structure doesn’t quite work, reordering the draft, writing a final draft, proofreading and so on.  I’ve still to find a piece of software that’ll do a neat diagram for me.  But it helps keep it in order.  Breaking down complex projects into specific parts is the only way I can tackle them without them seeming completely overwhelming.  The sort of tasks I’m doing probably need project management apps.  If it’s a matter of having 15 short tasks each week with different deadlines for different teachers, you might be better served by more of an administrative assistant app.  Also – amusingly – Tody (the app I’ve started using for housework and has spread out into other things) will give you deadlines and create task priority lists, if you find that easier than trying to retrieve information from a calendar or diary.  As someone with dyslexia/dyspraxia, I find that approach particularly helpful.

WIN_20200627_10_22_36_Pro

Have a study space if possible: even if it is just a small desk under the stairs.  Or have a dedicated piece of furniture where all the stuff needed for study is stored, preferably close to where you actually study.  If you find it energising to move around and study in different places in the house – or need to sit in different places so you can be on call for children – look for a cabinet on wheels… keep tools organised in a way that works but is mobile.  It is worth trying to make it physically easy to study if you can.  It isn’t helpful to find that studying means sitting for an hour in a horribly uncomfortable chair with an unpleasant background space and craned over a computer or desk at a bad angle.  Yes, one can teach reading by sitting on the ground and drawing letters in the dust, one can learn to read by crouching down and peering at said letters**.  And if that is all that can be done it is worth doing.  But it isn’t a desirable situation.  If you can keep the effort and energy for the study rather than for enduring discomfort, it’s worth doing.

If computers/phones distract you, try minding your inner child with a parental control or productivity app.  I don’t have one set up at the moment due to technical problems, but I have found this helped.  It meant I had to be aware of it if I was getting distracted.  I had one called Salfeld on my computer for a while, which had the immense advantage of being able to set individual limits for my email and Wikipedia, but to be able to access the websites I need for my study indefinitely.  However, it was annoyingly buggy from time to time, and didn’t show me where I had got to in my time limits in a simple way.  There are also apps that will do something like growing a “tree” which will metaphorically “die” if you do anything with your phone for a certain length of time.

I sometimes feel we have too much of a culture of “oh, we shouldn’t need this stuff, just be disciplined.”  Yes, that would be nice, but I’m not.  It is the reality.  By using some extra tools I can achieve the same end: as there is nothing wrong in itself with the tools, it is appropriate to use them (only avoid the pitfall of spending all time and effort looking for the right tool rather than studying.  I’ve found these things rather like what’s said of using nicotine replacement therapy for giving up smoking.  It hopefully puts the aim within reach, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easy).

 If possible treat study time in the same way as you would a lecture or lesson. At present, I’m using Pomodoro, running it for half an hour with a ten minute break.  While it is running I try to avoid doing anything I wouldn’t do if I was attending a lecture.  I will take a jumper off or plug the computer in, but I don’t abandon the task to make a hot drink or to put laundry in the washing machine.  I’m still working on not answering the phone: it tends to stress me, and there’s no point turning it off because I’d never remember to turn it back on.  I find half an hour a good length of time, because it is enough to do concentrated work, but not enough to feel overwhelming.

If you procrastinate about starting, try setting a timer and then aim to be in place to start when it goes off, again, act as you would for a lecture.

Estimate the time needed for each task: (Julie Morgenstern again) this will take practice but it is important.

Understand what stresses you: and look for ways of reducing it.  I plan relentlessly because not having a plan tends to result in my stressing about not being on track; and I tend to get confused by all the subsidiary tasks (e.g. checking the referencing guide) as well as about what needs to be done next (I need to do the concordance work before I re-read the philosophical texts).  Others find that planning and feeling they have to work to the plan stresses them far more than not having too much of a plan, and find it better not to.  There isn’t any right set of things to be stressed by in context.  Its down to who you are and how you react to the particular circumstances.

Be realistic about what’s possible.  This is a difficult skill, and again, I’d refer people to Julie Morgenstern on time management.  The basic idea is to write down an estimate of how long something is going to take and then to time how long it actually does take, until your estimates are usually right.  And to do things like adding in the fact that you’re probably going to be interrupted 3 times for an average of ten minutes each in every two hours of work, and therefore can only do an hour and a half on the requisite task in every two hours.  Being realistic both helps get stuff done, and reduces stress.  Set manageable goals according to your personality.  I find I need to achieve my goals most of the time, or I get discouraged.  Others may find themselves responsive to more of a challenge, and aim to set goals that are met about 50% of the time.  There’s no right or wrong here except what works for you.  However, I would be surprised it if helps anyone to set goals that are literally impossible and are never met.

It’s important to get enough rest: another impossibility in the modern world, and a very subjective one, making it difficult to write about.  But not in any way a waste of time.  Lying on your bed reading a paper book/listening to calming music/watching a bubble lamp, or even sleeping, for half an hour, or taking a long bath, or whatever else, may actually make you more productive when you return to your work.  Exercise, too, is important.  What I’ve found over the years is that if I study without exercising, my mind gets much more tired than my body, and then I find it (even more) difficult to get the necessary amount of sleep.  Also, if you are newly studying, it may cause you to need more sleep than you did before.

Remind yourself what you’re trying to achieve when discouraged: both in practical terms (e.g. better job) and human development terms.  As a culture, I feel we undervalue education.  I remember being very grieved to come across a programme that was following children in the Andes struggling up and down several hours of difficult and dangerous mountain paths to get themselves to and from school, when I had been volunteering in schools and listening to the teachers telling the children how boring learning was.  One may not enjoy every minute of it – when I’m trying to write an essay I do wonder why on earth I committed myself to this – but that’s not the same as having a background culture of thinking education an annoying imposition rather than a worthwhile privilege.  And no-one should excuse poor quality teaching on the grounds that education is inherently valuable – it still matters to engage and interest in as far as possible.  But education is part of being human, part of developing as a person, part of becoming better able to serve others.  It’s worthwhile.

Cherry Foster

 

*College: UK sixth form college: typically ages 16-18/19.  I was actually 15-16 the year I was doing chemistry, but the circumstances were a bit odd.  Some secondary schools (age 11-16) have a sixth form attached; it is normally the separate institutions that are referred to as colleges.  They often have adult students as well.

** I believe it was said of Mother Theresa that she did this in Calcutta, but I don’t know the reference.

To be sung as a Communion hymn to the tune of “Reductio ad Absurdum”?

(Let it be noted beyond doubt, I am not serious: I would be delighted to find that no one else was either…).

IMG_0006
Petal-art for Corpus et Sanguis Christi 2019 beside an outdoor altar.

 

Author of Life Divine,

Who hast a table spread,

Furnished with poisoned Wine,

And sweet plague-ridden Bread:

Thou art not now the way to live,

Professors’ models we shall give

More credence as the way to live.

We know now more than Thee,

What appertains to Life.

Thou art not necess’ry

When faced with earthly strife.

So strengthened by our human ways,

So strengthened by the world’s masked ways,

Let us go forth – and sing Thy praise!

Cherry Foster (a pastiche of Charles Wesley’s hymn)

 

 

Resurrection_(24) Photo credit Surgun source Wikamedia Commons no copyright
Resurrection – this icon shows Christ bringing Adam and Eve up from Hades. Photo credit: Surgun; source: Wikamedia Commons

 

 

 

N.B. Lest I cause confusion: I do not in fact mean this as an insistence that people cannot catch things from receiving Communion.  That is an interesting question on which I have no strong opinion, except that I believe we should take all legitimate precautions when receiving, by way of not putting God to the test.  What I am sure of, is that from the eternal perspective which we are supposed to be learning, receiving Communion can only ultimately bring about death rather than Life (for ourselves or others) if we are unfaithful (possibly not even then).  Nor would I reject science’s help – for which I am in fact extremely thankful – as long as it does not demand a loyalty beyond that which can be given to any human thing.

“Fasting” from the Eucharist: from the Bread of Life… that – perishes?

Is the Eucharist the Bread of Life and Blood of the Covenant – broken and shed that the world might have Life in abundance – or merely a personal emotional indulgence to be set aside in any difficulty out of compassion for our neighbour?

Pelican iconographic picture wikimedia commons copyright to attribution
A pelican wounding its breast to feed its young on its blood: a common image of the Eucharist. Photo source Wikimedia Commons; Photo Credit: Andreas Praefcke

Someone told me today that it’s been suggested that it would be praiseworthy on the part of priests to “fast from the Eucharist in solidarity with the laity,” (who have been completely deprived of the sacraments for the last three months).

If, in this time of crisis, my neighbours’ water is cut off and they are dying of thirst, do I help them by turning my stopcock off and dying of thirst as well?  Or do I help them by filling a water carrier from my still working tap and taking it round to them so they can drink?

Probably the latter.

We have a problem as a church that is much deeper than this crisis and the way we’ve reacted.  Instead of regarding Christ as the source of Life – the one thing actually necessary – we’ve taken to regarding Him as a comforting but expendable indulgence.  Yet this does not make sense.

Labour not for the bread that perishes, we read, but for that which endures to eternal Life.  It would seem reasonable, then, to suggest that the risk we should be prepared to go to to take people the Eucharist, should actually be greater than that which we should be prepared to go to to take someone the food of physical necessity.

If compassion in such circumstances means taking people the means of Life, then the means of the Divine Life is more fundamental than that of Earthly Life, and it is more necessary to take people that, than to do anything else.  (I don’t live up to this – no-where near – but it is worth upholding the principle to aim at and commit to God’s grace and help).  Moreover, I don’t think we’d have any trouble seeing it as presumption to expect God to send angels to nurse the sick, or to sustain the hungry – both of which He could surely do – but for some reason we do not hesitate to demand that He should provide His grace, presence, and salvation by means other than that He set up*.

This is further illustrated by considering that to apply the word “fast” to the Eucharist is highly problematic in terms of the logic of fasting.  That is, we fast, in general, in order to reset our priorities.  We fast from earthly indulgences (good in their right place) in order to commit ourselves more deeply to the inbreaking of heavenly realities into our earthly lives.  We fast to train ourselves to a deeper emphasis on what actually matters.  If this concept of fasting is applied to the Eucharist, it would in practice mean turning from the love and life of God and reapplying ourselves more fully to worldly things – things which are then fallen and distorted by being placed before God.  This cannot be rightly done.  It is the wrong type of paradox.

I think we are making an idol of worldly compassion: putting our neighbour in the place of God rather than loving our neighbour as an image of God.  It seems to me that this distorts the priority of the first commandment, and the way in which the first and second commandments necessarily interact.

Reacting to those who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use, we have become those who are so earthly minded that they are of no heavenly use**.  The issue at stake is not which way around these two concepts are put*** but the opposition of the two concepts, instead of their co-operation.  We have become Gnostic, separating the spiritual and physical in order to affirm either one or the other, and instead of correcting that separation, we have affirmed it and responded to (just) criticism of it by rejecting the Life to come instead of this one!  The precautions and success of science and human knowledge against disease are a gift of God.  We should care about earthly life; we should do what we can to protect the vulnerable (to COVID-19 or to the consequences of lockdown) from earthly death.  But true compassion for our neighbour witnesses to and serves God first, thus showing the open door to true Life to them.

What the world needs from Christians in this worldwide reminding of the fact of death is not a greater affirmation of the absolute priority of the fear of human death, not further emphasis on the comfortless hope that science and its precautions might limit this disease as a source of death, but a witness to the power and love of God who has overcome death.  This means acting to this belief in the real world, not placing it away from us in some other realm and then being “practical” and “compassionate,” where “practical” means “the right thing to do as judged by the common sense of those who do not believe” – and “compassionate” means tending to physical needs while leaving people to perish spiritually.

I think that we are actually making an idol of worldly compassion: that is, we are placing love of neighbour separated from God in front of love of neighbour as an image of God.  It seems to me that this distorts the priority of the first commandment.  First we should take people Communion – within the secular rules if possible, but in breach of them if not –  and then we should do their shopping.

God is real.  He is the source of Life.  We should cling first to him – we should in the deepest compassion for our neighbour possible bear witness to His Life for their sake – and then do our best to assist those made in his image in their earthly difficulties, again for His sake.  To cast Him and His Life aside in order to affirm the world’s idea that death is absolute is not compassion; to continue to worship in witness of Him and the Life He offers is not selfishness, but true service.

I plead to my clergy as one who believes, as best I can, what they themselves have taught me.  Do not continue to cut off the water, from yourselves or any other.  Rethink, and take the Sacrament to people, and let the grief all bear be turned to joy, and the rediscovery of death become in people an assured knowledge of a truer Life which is not, cannot be, at threat.

Cherry Foster

* See this post: the original idea comes from John Donne writing on Baptism.  I’ll find the precise reference if anyone wants it.

**This is not original: but I hesitate to reference it publicly because I don’t know if the theologian who said it would want their name and work dragged into this argument.

***Though the former seems less bad to me than the latter, because though both are gnostic, at least concentrating first on God keeps the commandments the right way around.  That is, it seems to me that while it is logically a distortion, there is less distance to go to correct it.  To be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use is a failure to live the full Gospel (which tells us that part of living the love of God is to be of earthly use) but it seems closer to living it than being earthly to the exclusion of God’s power and love in human life.  :-s  The (so-called) heavenly minded has disfigured the tree by cutting off a branch that can regrow, the earthly minded is poisoning the very roots in the name of improving the fruit.

 

The Unlocked Door?

On unlocking Church doors but continuing to refuse God’s people Communion with Him

Into what was Thy house we weeping come,

To find Thee locked away from touch and sight,

As if Thou wast an angry idol form,

Who had not love, nor life, nor power but spite.

We come, where we once thought that we belonged,

To find the veil Thou hadst removed returned.

Men set asunder what God counted one,

Who come to seek Thee still away are turned.

We come to Thee, our Love, who art all Life,

And find we must Thy power and love deny,

To place our hope and trust in human ways,

We turn aside from Thee for life – and die.

Before our eyes, Thou absent art exposed,

Who may not touch, who may not Thee obey,

Replacing with Man’s thought Thy love and care,

And leaving us to pride and sin a prey.

O Thou who diedst!  Though we Thy Life forsake

To seek in frail human cares our hope,

Who cast aside Thy Flesh and Blood for fear,

Let not our sin Thy covenant revoke.

O Lord, forgive, O Lord, for love restore

Thy traitor flock to knowledge of Thy worth,

That when Thou comest again to judge in might

Thou mayest find hope and love – and faith – on earth.

Cherry Foster

And remove cap?

When health and safety defeats its own point

I have a certain amount of trouble swallowing tablets, and a tendency for them to make me feel sick, with the result that I sought out a soluble form of an over the counter medication I take on a comparatively frequent basis.  However, I didn’t appreciate the fact that it fizzes (whether for cosmetic reasons or for some medical reason) and the pharmacist suggested, that, instead I take a dose of the suspended liquid formulation usually intended for children, which is slightly less horrible.

I do not have the slightest trouble opening normal childproof bottles, such as the caps on the top of bleach.

I spent ages trying to get the cap off this medicine bottle.  By ages, I mean that I spent some time on at least three different nights trying to remove the cap, before (on all but the last occasion) giving up and resorting to the fizzy formula.

It took a pair of scissors, a pair of pliers, and a hacksaw.

The instructions say, “shake the bottle for at least ten seconds and remove the cap.”  Nothing more.

There is a diagram on top of the bottle suggesting it should be pushed down and then screwed round.

I tried this.  It had no effect at all.

I cut the bottle seal by slipping scissors up inside the edge.

It went round and round, click click click, but went nowhere.

I forced scissors up under the lid and cut a slit in the cap.  It took a lot of uncomfortable force, but it was possible.  I broke the outer cap off.

The bottle comes with a syringe, and it says that there is a hole to put this through.

But what I had exposed looked like a sealed, solid plastic knob.  It certainly had no hole in it.  Nor, apparently, was there any way of getting it off.  Had someone sold me a bottle wherein the machine had made a “mistake” and failed to create a hole?  Or was it designed like this?

Eventually it came to this evening, wherein I simply could not stomach the fizzy formula on top of bread and marmite.  I cut a groove in the side of the inner cap with my hacksaw.  This was awkward and not as safe as I would have liked because there was no way of holding it that could avoid cutting towards my hand.  So I tried to wrench the knob-like cap off with a pair of pliers without cutting all the way through, and eventually succeeded.  And came through to the stated hole, etc.

So presumably it was designed like that.

Health and safety, or cause of danger?

I kept imagining a parent trying to hammer their way in with a beloved and sick child screaming in agony in the background.  Tried to imagine trying to be careful with the hacksaw and my hand under that sort of stress.

That sounds to me more like something that should be forbidden as a form of torture under the international code of human rights, than used as a health and safety device!

Moreover, a bottle that takes a hacksaw and a pair of pliers rather defeats the point, because the bottle is liable to end up in a state wherein the lids are completely not secure (in fact, my outer cap just comes off, but the inner one may need pliers again), or left off due to the difficulty of getting them off again.

Overdoing it defeats the point.

And seriously, “and remove cap?”  That might well take the prize for the most inadequate instruction I’ve ever seen…

Cherry Foster